Monday, April 15, 2013

We're All Bostonians Tonight

Today is Tax Day in America and Marathon Day in Boston. The third Monday in April is also when Massachusetts and Maine celebrate Patriots' Day. April 15 is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci and Henry James. It's my husband's birthday. April 15 already had plenty going on.

It didn't need this.

I was having tea and angel-food cake on Beacon Street when the bombs detonated. We were having such a "lively" meeting that we didn't hear the two blasts a few blocks away. (We'd ignored an earthquake during a previous meeting.) We didn't hear the news for more than an hour. By the time we tore ourselves away from the TV to walk home, the streets were closing and hundreds of dazed, exhausted runners and their entourages were walking down the center of Marlborough Street, wrapped in mylar blankets and trash bags for warmth, unsure of where they were going.

The residential streets of Back Bay are never crowded. You normally see just a few people at a time, even on Marathon Day.

I could describe my reaction but, chances are, you know it. You've been there; we all have, now. We all remember 911. We all become one family on days like this; we're in it together. We feel collectively sad, furious, puzzled, shaken, unsettled, and distraught. We grieve. We wonder who did it and why. We think about the victims and their families and all that unnecessary suffering and waste. We relive Manhattan, and Newtown, and Oklahoma City. We watch too much news on TV.

There will be others who will give eye-witness accounts and explore what happened with eloquence and insight. I'll just tell you how it was around here.

It was a beautiful spring day. And then all we heard were sirens and helicopters and then the quiet chatter of displaced runners filled the air. The streets were closed, so traffic disappeared. The birds kept singing, and the magnolias kept trying to bloom, and there was a chill in the air that suddenly felt more like evil than like April. We were told to go home and stay off the streets, and to avoid crowds. So we watched TV, staring numbly in disbelief at our own familiar streets and stores and pavements, just around the corner. Transformed by blood, debris, and horror.

When a tragedy or disaster happens in your own neighborhood, you quickly find out who worries about you. Facebook is a godsend because you can quickly reassure lots of people around the world.

As I was watching the news, wondering what I might possibly do to help, a friend called to say she'd been evacuated from her apartment on Boylston Street and had nowhere to go. So we hosted a refugee for a few hours, until other friends called and told her about a sneaky way to get back into her building, locked down as part of the crime scene. She made it back in and isn't leaving unless she's forced to.

I hate being told to stay inside so I went for a walk. Back Bay looked like the crime scene it is, with yellow and red tape stretched across abandoned streets, policemen and flashing blue lights at each intersection, and brightly lit clusters of journalists and photographers. Almost everyone else was home watching the news, but dogs still needed to be walked and people needed smoke on their porches.

Tomorrow we'll wake up not remembering this and then it will hit us all over again. My lovely little neighborhood, filled with blood, broken glass, and fear. Nothing will be quite the same again here, as nothing was the same after 911 and Newtown. But somehow, it's all the same, isn't it? And it's so damned wrong.

A media cluster on the Commonwealth Avenue mall. Ruining the grass.

Forget walking on Newbury or Boylston Streets.

I don't usually see Anderson Cooper on my evening strolls.

Or giant American flags. 


  1. I'm so glad to read that you and yours are safe. As a runner, I was too stunned to know how to react. Five of my friends were running the race and all I could do was hope they were safe. As a person who loves Boston, I am heartbroken that this has happened to a city that gives me so much joy (even from afar).

    My heart and thoughts are with everyone in your beautiful city today. I wish with all my might that I could just get on a plane and come help.

  2. dear tpb,

    i am writing this to you from paris, where i am staying for a month while doing some work relating to my website design business and some vacationing. up until last night, i was looking forward to exploring a few of your favorite haunts here, which i had happily noted and bookmarked for just such an occasion over the years i have been reading your blog.

    a friend from the States texted me at about 1030p yesterday to tell me about the explosions and i then got in touch with everyone i know in the Boston area. my 80-something parents live around the corner from you on Beacon St. and they had, as they have for almost 20 years, walked over to the corner of Comm. and Gloucester to watch the runners.

    Thank God they shuffled home after that.

    My place here has wireless and i stayed up until 1am watching and reading the news reports. i had to keep quiet, as well, and really couldn’t even emote to friends, as there is a baby upstairs and i didn’t want to make noise. so there i was in the stillness of my room, experiencing the horror from afar. it was surreal.

    i woke up today to discover many friends who knew I was here had checked in: Facebook, texts, and email. i worked, fitfully, this morning with my iPad streaming WBUR, which kicks in with NPR at 11am. I finally did some real work.

    I was supposed to go to the Louvre today as a treat for finishing some project tasks but I just couldn’t go out.

    And then I saw you had posted. As always, I loved your reflections on the moment and the pictures of the neighborhood. I am pretty sure that is my friend Linda in the Anderson Cooper shot. I worked for a long long time for CNN before I got out of the news biz. The Bush years just drained all the joy of journalism out of me.

    Anyway, something about your post brought all the feelings about what had happened right to the surface-- in a good way. it doesn’t really matter why. I just wanted to say thank you and I hope you keep on writing for a long time. You have a wonderful talent.

    I will go for a walk in the neighborhood now and sit on a bench. The sun has come out, finally.

    I could use a big hug from my two cats right now but that’s not going to happen so give your gang a few pets for me instead. i have seen nary a cat in the two weeks I have been here. the dogs are very cute, though not one owner looked like he or she wanted their pet to be touched. oy, i am in withdrawal.

    (of course, i do not want this posted, but just wanted to reach you and this comment was the only way.)

    DB in Brookline

  3. Glad to hear you are OK

  4. Thank you for your post. We've spent so many wonderful days in Boston: school vacations, one special Easter, the times we visited our daughter when she attended Pine Manor College, and yes, the Boston Marathon. Even before I fond out my Aunt and her two teenage grandchildren were at the marathon yesterday (they are fine) I felt as if family had been attacked.

    Here in Maine you can be sure we are concerned and saddened for this city with which we share so many connections

    Psalm 89 ends with these words of hope as we wait for those injured to recover, for those who suffered loss to endure, and for the culprits to be caught.

    "And the witness in the sky is faithful."



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